ENTREPRENEUR & ASIA TRAVELER
My name is Jay and as the co-founder of the ultra-luxe travel company, Remote Lands, I investigate Asia’s most extraordinary destinations, meet its most interesting people and engage in its most mesmerizing experiences for a living. Shamelessly indulging my travel addiction, I am astoundingly fortunate to say, is the best job I can imagine.
This would be purely a sybarite’s adventure without my camera, which allows me to record the otherwise unbelievable moments and farfetched landscapes in images and video so that I may share my uniquely privileged perspective on a captivating continent. Paving the way for others to discover Asia motivates me to keep heading off towards the unexplored horizon.
Here’s a little more about me and my unexpected journey into the travel industry:
“The journey is part of the experience – an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent.
One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca.” – Anthony Bourdain
My years of travel and forming relationships across Asia culminated when I co-founded Remote Lands in 2006 with my business partner Catherine Heald. Catherine runs our Manhattan headquarters while I lead the team and serve our clients traveling here in Asia from our office in Bangkok. Truth be told, I am just as often working from the road.
Remote Lands is an ultra high end experiential tour operator designing and executing entirely customized holidays across Asia. Every single trip we create encompasses both the ultimate in lavish luxuries and the truest natural beauty Asia has to offer. Our unique formula has been featured in the world’s most discerning, most read travel and luxury publications. Confidentiality clauses forbid me from divulging which business leaders, influencers and celebrities travel with Remote Lands. However we are privileged to count some of the world’s most recognizable and accomplished people among our loyal clientele.
My role at Remote Lands is to manage Operations. Here in Bangkok we take responsibility for all reservations and itineraries. We coordinate very closely with our local partners and associates around the region to ensure that our clients are taken care of with the utmost attention throughout every single moment of their journey. That thoughtful precision and local knowledge are hallmarks of Remote Lands. To ensure exceptional, carefree experiences for every client in each destination, I travel frequently to quality check and research new adventures. Keeping our clients at the cutting edge of the experiential travel map means I am often the first foreigner to visit an undiscovered heritage site, an isolated community or remote island. The sheer wonder on people’s faces to see me, along with their often barely concealed laughter, is definitely one of the perks of my job.
Indeed, I have created a career that places me among the world’s most trusted and innovative luxury travel designer focused exclusively on Asia. If I am an expert at what I do, it is because I feel truly passionate about Asia and travel. Each new adventure to yet another unexplored place across this endlessly fascinating landscape reminds me that I love my job.
As a four-time entrepreneur, work and travel have long gone hand-in-hand.
My early career at Reactive Systems in New Jersey developing interactive CD-ROMS and kiosks for major pharmaceutical companies gave me a strong IT background when that technology was still nascent. I moved to Hong Kong in the early Nineties, an exciting time to be an expat in the former British colony on the cusp of an emerging China. I worked for multimedia travel publisher InterOptica and later co-founded The Black Box, a leading online media company in Asia. The Black Box was honored with a Hong Kong Small Business Award and I’m proud to say we had a blue-chip client list that included Apple, AT&T, Dow Jones and Intel. Opportunities to set up satellite offices in China – in the then up-and-coming cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen – stoked my travel bug.
When the opportunity came along to help start “the Yahoo of the developing world” as it was later called by the international media, I jumped on it. I became Co-Founder & COO of the New York based Orientation.com, a multilingual Internet portal with a staff of 75 and local partners spread across 35 countries speaking 17 languages. Deloitte & Touche named us on their “Silicon Alley Fast 50” list but then came the Dot-Com Crash of 2001. It was time to move on.
Thus began my next entrepreneurial venture – One Voice Network. The IP telephony industry was still in an early stage in 2002 as we focused on developing products in China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as for the South American and African markets. While I felt the company was never a perfect fit, it afforded me the opportunity to gain valuable business experience and to travel across Asia, which I would greatly benefit from as my life’s next chapter unfolded.
What is your favorite country that you have ever visited and why?
I get asked this question all the time and I never have an answer. No one place is my favorite because I find myself drawn to the contrasts in Asia among its richly varied destinations. Certainly I gravitate towards travel that takes me out of my comfort zone because I am much too restless to sunbathe on a beach for more than a few days. I enjoy visiting tribal cultures all over the world, the more remote the better as you can see from my photos. While there is no one favorite, some standout recent travel memories include Myanmar, Indonesia, India, and North Korea.
What has been your most memorable travel experience?
In just the past year I had two travel experiences I’ll never forget, ones that in a few years will not be possible anymore. I visited several newly opened tribal villages outside of Loikaw in Myanmar’s Karen Hills then traveled on to some remote areas of Phongsali province in the extreme north of Laos where the local people had never seen a foreigner before. No one I met had ever had their photo taken before I did it. I felt profoundly fortunate, as I know these cultures will not be around forever.
What do you find most challenging about this kind of travel?
Finding enough time. Since I travel most often for my work, these trips are always fast paced. I change hotels every day, trying to see as much as possible. It can be tiring but I would never complain about getting to do it all.
How has travel shaped you as a person?
I travel to meet and connect with people living lives I could not have imagined when I was growing up in New Jersey. This diverse perspective gives me real insights and empathy for how others live and what they value. I often observe a real bias in Western media and have learned that what we see on TV even when its reported as news should never be accepted at face value. Go out and see the world for yourself. Form your own opinions. Even places like North Korea are not the places CNN makes them out to be and you would never know the truth without visiting. Only travel provides that education.
Where did you grow up and what was childhood like for you?
I grew up in Mendham, New Jersey around 45 minutes from Manhattan. From my teenage years, I developed a strong desire to travel and to get out of the small town where I grew up. I studied journalism and video production at Rutgers University and that further fueled my desire to travel, first all over the US then later the world.
Why did you decide to make your home in Bangkok, Thailand?
The original reasons for basing myself in Bangkok were business ones. Bangkok is the ideal hub for reaching the greatest number of Asian destinations, living costs are reasonable and we have great staff at Remote Lands. Over time, the Thai capital has come to feel like home. It is an excellent place to live that combines traditional and modern elements in one culturally stimulating place that I find edgier than Singapore or Hong Kong, which I like to visit.
Has your experience of travel changed over time?
Though I never traveled as a backpacker, as I get older I appreciate comfort more when it is available. Certainly I can rough it when it is not. I can be happy with a private pool villa at an Aman any day but I will always want to combine that with something to stimulate my sense of wonder.
What inspired you to start Remote Lands?
After 15 years on the bleeding edge of the tech industry, I was ready for a change. Most of my career had an international focus and travel was already a vital part of my lifestyle. So when my business partner at Remote Lands approached me with the idea of starting a travel company, I jumped at it with one condition. From the start, I felt we had to identify a unique niche and go for it in the biggest way possible. Certainly, I feel we have.
How have your past experiences in the tech industry helped you as a traveler and an entrepreneur?
In the tech industry I traveled heavily and developed business partnerships in 40 countries across Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Europe. What a fantastic lesson in how to deal with people from every type of background. That taught me to be flexible and resourceful, two qualities I rely on every time I set off on the next adventure.
What camera equipment do you use when you travel?
These days I shoot photos with a Canon 5D MKIII. My primary lenses include a 24-105mm and 70-200mm 2.8 lens. For video, I use the Sony A6500, which is a fantastic little camera for ‘run and gun’ shooting. On occasion I’ll also use the Canon 5D MKIII and Sony RX100 MKIV. These days I also can’t live without my Zhiyun Crane gimbal as well. My latest purchase is a DJI Phantom 4 drone.
How did you get all these people in so many different destinations to pose for you?
You can’t be shy or lazy or it doesn’t happen. I approach my photography and therefore my subjects as a professional would, which means directing people to get the shot. I would tell anyone else attempting this to tell people what you want. Most often they listen, although I have learned it helps to offer some incentive. Like that it is a fair exchange. When I want to take group shots in more remote places I find its best to deal with ‘the guy in charge.’ In Loikaw, Myanmar we rolled into the village with bags of rice, medicine and alcohol. We headed straight to the village elder and then everything suddenly unfolded. When it’s a face that captivates me, there is nothing like establishing a rapport. So I put the camera down and start from there. I don’t worry about language barriers, a little eye contact showing my genuine interest and walls usually start coming down.
Are there any countries left for you to visit?
Miraculously, considering how often I travel, yes there are a few Asia destinations I still look forward to in my future: Taiwan, Maldives, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan come to mind. Globally my wish list is almost endless: Iran where I will go next spring, and Ethiopia is somewhere I’ve been dreaming about for quite awhile.
How would you sum up your travel philosophy in one sentence?
My travel philosophy is to veer off the beaten path and out of my comfort zone as often as possible and to interact with people I meet along the way rather than merely observing them from a safe distance. Travel memories are made in those deeply personal moments.